How and When to Fertilize Your Indoor Herbs, Veggies, and Houseplants

How and When to Fertilize Your Indoor Herbs, Veggies, and Houseplants

Jun 19, 2023Leslie Halleck

Learning how and when to fertilize your indoor garden and potted plants can be a little tricky as a beginner. Here are some basic common questions and guidelines to get you started! 

Q: How do you know when your plants need fertilizer?

It won’t always be totally obvious when your plant needs fertilizer. Often, too little light is really the culprit and the reason why your plants’ foliage color is fading, or growth is stunted. When your plants stretches or gets "leggy", and becomes relatively pale in color, it needs more light. It's important to learn that you can't substitute fertilizer for light, so first make sur what you are growing is getting adequate light. 

If your plants are getting plenty of light or are growing under grow lights, here is what to look for:

When a plant really does need more nutrients, it may simply lack overall vigor, growth may slow down, new leaves may emerge smaller and pale, or it may not bloom (or bloom well) nor produce viable fruits. 

Once the nutrient deficiency is significant:

  • Especially nitrogen, plants can become chlorotic with an overall yellow to white  cast; lower leaves yellow first and begin to drop and young leaves are smaller and pale. 
  • Or yellowing between the veins, which is called interveinal chlorosis, usually on young leaves that caused by an iron deficiency (most common in acid-loving plants).
  • But there are many other symptoms depending on the species and which nutrient the plant needs.

It can be difficult to accurately diagnose specific nutrient deficiencies (or toxicities) as a home gardener, or differentiate them from light or watering issues, so your best strategy is to set up a proactive feeding schedule with a mild balanced fertilizer to prevent a hungry plant; rather than try and correct a severe deficiency or toxicity.

Q: How often should I fertilize my plants?

For edible indoor herbs, veggies, and smaller potted plants, natural plant fertilizers that include liquid humus, composted manures, seaweed, etc. are good choices. You can find organic and hybrid natural plant fertilizers in both soluble liquid and dry forms. Strong synthetic fertilizers can “burn” your plants due to high nitrogen content if you are not careful – and the salts can build up to toxic levels in the potting media.

Our 3-1-5 Urban Leaf Liquid Plant Food provides a gentle pH balancing boost for your seedlings, potted herbs and veggies, hydroponic systems, and even houseplants!

It’s tough to overfertilize or burn your plants with low-nitrogen organic fertilizers but still never apply more than is instructed on the label, especially when you’re growing in an aquaponic or hydroponic system or in containers.

  • Plants you harvest from regularly, such as herbs and salad greens, can benefit from regular weekly applications of a mild fertilizer.

  • Fruiting plants in containers, such as tomatoes or strawberries, typically thrive with fertilizer applications every two weeks. Steer clear of high-nitrogen fertilizers on your fruiting plants as it can cause too much leafy growth versus flowers and fruits. 

Stock up on Joyful Dirt, a mild soil conditioner and 4-9-8 fertilizer you can add to your potted herbs and veggies

  • Most foliage houseplants aren’t heavy feeders so you can usually keep plants happy with a monthly fertilizer application throughout the year as long as light levels remain constant. If your houseplants receive significantly less light in fall and winter, cut bac on fertilizer until spring.

Learn more about plant nutrients and if you can use kitchen scraps as natural fertilizer. 

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